Library roles in disaster (or everyday service)

The Emerging Technologies Librarian’s recent post, Assumptions about Library’s Role in Disasters, raises some interesting points about disaster planning, and library roles in general, as it compares public vs. library administrators’ assumptions about what materials public and academic libraries hold/retain, and in what format that material should be available.

The contrast between the patrons’ assumption that they need not keep their own copies of important resources because the library will always have them, and the library administrators’ assumption that patrons are responsible for retaining personal copies of resources of vital importance to them, reminds me of a discussion I had with a fellow hospital librarian today.  She had just advised a medical resident that the library does not provide paper copies of Dubin, or the Washington Manual, or the Lange series titles, because the first person who “checked out” the title didn’t bring it back.  The library budget doesn’t stretch to buying multiple replacement copies of these relatively inexpensive titles every year; the resident would need to buy his own copy.   “But they told me you would have it!”, the resident protested.  Whoever “they” were, their assumptions weren’t based on library realities.

Speaking of disaster planning, I look forward to the upcoming MLA Webcast, Survival Tips and Stories: Expanding the Library’s Services in Times of Disaster. As a hospital librarian, my informal “disaster plan” is to assure that paper copies of important reference works are available in paper, in the event of a blackout or network outage. Yet as I read the disaster stories posted at the NN/LM Emergency Preparedness and Response Toolkit (http://nnlm.gov/ep/lessons-learnedstories-told/ ) I see that medical libraries and librarians have been called on to fill many roles beyond providing the latest copy of Harrison’s when disaster strikes their communities. It’s time to re-examine my own assumptions.

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